Nawaz Feels the Heat: What Will He Do?

Nawaz Sharif is in a bind.

Wednesday is the last day left for the judges to be restored as promised by his party and Asif Zardari’s in their Murree Declaration.

But Zardari, as evinced in recent interviews, has veered completely off course in the final hour (he was swerving around during the past few weeks). Yesterday, Zardari made it clear he considers the Murree Declaration a “political agreement.” In Pakistan’s political culture, such an agreement has the value of toilet paper (or, perhaps more culturally appropriate: lota paani).

So Sharif has three choices: stick and compromise with Zardari, pull his ministers out of the cabinet (yet stay in the governing coalition), or totally break away from the PPP. None of these moves will seriously impact the PPP immediately. It has the backing of Pakistan’s establishment as well as foreign powers. The PML(N) can be easily replaced by the MQM and PML(Q). But Nawaz Sharif and the PML(N) will likely feel the impact quickly.

Sticking with Zardari provides no guarantees whatsoever.

Sharif could concede to the PPP’s demands (whatever they are now). Parliament could move for the judges’ restoration in a special session as early as Thursday. But that’s highly unlikely.

Zardari could provide Sharif with another vague commitment, bid for more time, and then come up with another story in a few weeks. This would publicly humiliate Sharif, if he hasn’t been already. Moreover, Sharif’s political renewal is much in part due to his uncompromising stance on the judiciary issue. If he’s seen as giving in, his political capital will suffer. This will be exacerbated if his compromises yield little of substance.

Alternatively, if the judges are restored with somewhat manageable concessions (e.g. letting Justice Chaudhry stay around till 2010), then Sharif and his ministers get to stay in the central government and, more importantly, at the helm in Punjab. This is the most palatable scenario for Sharif.

If Sharif distances himself from the PPP partially or completely, then he and much of Pakistan could be put on a path of confrontation with the establishment as well as the PPP. Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, would likely be unable to return to electoral politics without any radical political change. Most importantly, he’ll be further pushed into the rightist camp (the Jamaat-i Islami and Tehreek-i Insaaf). And that will serve the interests of those who would like to discredit him internationally as a clean-shaven mullah. Sharif might win with much of the Pakistani street, but with the rising economic challenges, who knows if they’ll even have the stomach for another judicially-oriented fight.

With that said, Zardari’s moves are not without risk. His behavior since the murder of his wife has been praiseworthy. Those who once opposed him had since described him as a statesmanlike. Now he appears, in the eyes of many, like a typical Pakistani politician or swindling car salesman. Zardari should keep in mind that he is not and will never be a Bhutto. If he ditches the PML(N), reverts to the politics of old, and becomes prime minister this summer, he will become the perfect political punching bag for a great number of parties. Magnamity, statesmanship, and sympathy from his wife’s murder have shielded him from public scorn. Once all those wear off and he’s at the top, there will be little to shield him from a multi-directional onslaught.

Ejaz Shah Headed Downunder

The previous Intelligence Bureau chief Ejaz Shah–accused by Benazir Bhutto of plotting the assassination attempt on her in Karachi–has been allowed to leave the country for Australia. The purpose and duration of his visit is unclear, but it’s worth noting that Pervez Musharraf, a close friend of his, attempted to post him as high commissioner to that country in 2004, but the Aussies seemed to have objected.

Four Ways to Partner With Pakistan

Below is my latest external piece, published at PostGlobal, a website run by WashingtonPost.com and Newsweek.com.

The published version contains edits (not by PostGlobal) I did not approve and does not include a major correction I submitted. Below is a more accurate version, which contains my approved edits and requested correction.

Recasting the U.S.-Pakistan Partnership
By Arif Rafiq

The need for the United States to redefine its relationship with Pakistan—a nuclear-armed, frontline state in the war on terror—has never been greater before. Now there is considerable opportunity to do so.

U.S. Senate Democrats issued a letter to George Bush this month urging him to “embark on a new relationship with Pakistan based on cooperation with institutions rather than individuals, and to support the will of the Pakistani people as expressed in the February 18 parliamentary elections.”

Historically, ties between the United States and Pakistan have been strongest with a Republican in the White House and an army general in power in Islamabad. In this scenario, Congress generally plays an antagonistic, if not wholly hostile role. The goodwill usually ends when Democrats in Washington and democrats in Islamabad govern. This has been the story of the on-again, off-again U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

The cycle could be broken in this period of transition with Democratic support for the new civilian government in Islamabad. But the lame duck administration in Washington must also follow suit.

In the Bush administration’s remaining months, it could do irreparable harm to our relationship with Pakistan, where democracy and nationalism have renewed. In a democratic Pakistan, decision-making will be less centralized and more representative of public opinion. But the Bush administration is increasingly acting unilaterally in Pakistan’s tribal areas and has aggressively tried to ensure a pliant government in Islamabad.

And so, amidst the opportunity for U.S.-Pakistan ties to grow also lies the seeds for their unraveling. Long-term, bilateral cooperation is in the interest of both countries, and needs to be secured. This requires recasting the U.S.-Pakistan partnership as one between sovereign democracies.

Toward this end, here are four recommendations for Washington policymakers:

1) Don’t interfere in Pakistan’s internal politics.
Washington has tried to assemble a coalition government to its liking, excluding Pakistan’s second largest party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Such an approach has backfired, rewarding those who are seen as standing up to the United States. If Washington continues to overplay its hand, it can find such parties in power and itself, partnerless in Islamabad.

2) Engage the Pakistani people.
The United States, however, should make its voice heard in Pakistan. There is plenty of opportunity to do so. US officials visit Pakistan on an almost weekly basis, but rarely speak to the local media. American generals and diplomats appear on the pan-Arab Al Jazeera regularly, but their Pakistan outreach is scant. There’s no excuse for avoiding Pakistan’s news outlets, two of which are exclusively English-language.

Instead of making their case to the Pakistani people, U.S. officials prefer dealing with their Pakistani counterparts behind closed doors. As a result, Pakistanis see the United States not as a friend, but a bully. And the good that Washington does in Pakistan, such as providing Fulbright grants and funding civil society groups, goes vastly underappreciated.

3) Provide a sizable democracy dividend.

Pakistan’s two previous democratic periods were met with massive reductions in U.S. aid, facilitating their demise in a perpetually cash-strapped Pakistan. This time around, the United States should maintain military aid and follow Senator Joseph Biden’s proposal to triple non-military assistance to $1.5 billion.

Pakistan, though deeply impoverished, is an emerging market. Yet, its recent economic surge has produced few jobs. Washington’s help would be most effective in educational and infrastructural development. And it should actively consider a free trade agreement. Pakistan’s major industries, agriculture and textiles, are in a state of crisis. Eliminating trade barriers will make Pakistani exports more competitive, spur job growth, and easily win Pakistani hearts.

4) Forge a comprehensive Pakistan-Afghanistan policy.
Unilateralism and military force cannot defeat the insurgencies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But a comprehensive, regional solution can. It would require wedging local militants from al-Qaeda, integrating Pakistani and Afghan insurgents into their respective political systems, and repairing Pakistan-Afghanistan ties.

Ending the insurgencies might also necessitate replacing U.S. and NATO forces with non-neighboring Muslim states such as Indonesia and Turkey. No occupying power has lasted longer than a decade in modern Afghanistan.

Our relations with Pakistan are at a decisive juncture. The current and next administration and Congress have an opportunity to strike a new deal with this nascent Muslim democracy, nuclear power, and pivotal country in a critical region. We cannot afford to let it pass by.

Arif Rafiq is a policy and communications consultant and editor of the Pakistan Policy Blog (www.pakistanpolicy.com).

Ahmedinejad Visits Pakistan’s First Wax Museum

All Politics is Local

Full Employment

(Not-so) Silent Spring

The Afghan Taliban’s spring offensive has begun.

This afternoon in Kabul, two Taliban teams executed a well-coordinated attac on a military parade celebrating Mujahideen Day.

One group fired mortars while sharpshooters targeted dignitaries seated in bleachers. Two Afghan officials seated within 90 feet of Hamid Karzai were killed.

A Taliban spokesman said that his group did not intend to kill Karzai. Even if he is covering his group’s failure to do so, the operation was still a success. The massive security breach–occurring with inside help–gives an impression of Taliban strength and Karzai’s impotency. The Afghan leader, derided as the mayor of Kabul, is apparently now also vulnerable in the capital.

The Afghans recently took control over Kabul’s security.  But today’s incident, reminiscent of Anwar al-Sadat’s assassination, suggests the present government lacks the political legitimacy and cohesiveness to fulfill its basic obligations.

Who is Maulvi Iqbal Haider?

Today, Maulvi Iqbal Haider submitted a petition to the Islamabad High Court (established by Pervez Musharraf in a decree on December 14, 2007) preemptively contesting the restoration of the deposed judges via parliament.

It’s worth noting that he’s the head of a tiny party, the Awami Himayat Tehreek, formerly named the Pervez Musharraf Himayat Tehreek (Movement for the Support of Pervez Musharraf).

On the Verge of What?

There was a much talked about party at the president’s house last night. Those attending included Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. No members of the the Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) showed up. The de-facto interior minister Rehman Malik reportedly spent quite a bit of time chatting with Pervez Musharraf.

Tonight, Musharraf and Gen. Kayani are at the prime minister’s house for dinner. GEO News reports that in addition to the corps and formation commanders, ministers from the PML-N are also present, but failed to mention specific individuals.

Earlier in the week, the European Union’s chief envoy Javier Solana told GEO News that Musharraf will remain as president till his term expires in about four and a half years. Perhaps Dr. Solana’s statement was less prescriptive and more a declaration of fact.

Update: 1:23PM (New York) – Asif Zardari is on his way to Dubai for a two-day visit, according to GEO News. He was to meet with Nawaz Sharif on Friday as their parties are currently in a deadlock regarding parliamentary moves for judicial restoration and ‘reform’. Also noteworthy — Aitzaz Ahsan has once again warned of a “long march” if the deposed judges are not restored in time. It seems as if Asif Zardari has decided to run for the Rawalpindi National Assembly seat Aitzaz was set on.

Islamabad Reaches Deal with the Mehsuds?

Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, has called on the Taliban to stop their militant activities against the Pakistani government. His announcement states that those who violate the accord will be hung upside down in bazaars.

This indicates that Islamabad has possibly concluded a deal with the tribal elders of the Mehsuds, the dominant tribe of South Waziristan (one of the seven tribal areas), which counts Baitullah as one of their tribesmen. A previous failed accord in 2005 was between Islamabad and the militants.

Dawn provides details of the 15-point draft agreement with the Mehsud elders.

The apparent agreement with the Mehsuds coincides with the release of Maulana Sufi Muhammad of Swat. He, however, has little control over the main insurgents in that area, including his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah.Earlier in the day, White House spokesperson Dana Perino expressed misgivings about negotiations with militants:

“We are concerned about it and what we encourage them to do is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations that are ongoing in order to help prevent a safe haven for terrorists there….But in general, yes, we have been concerned about these types of approaches because we don’t think that they work.”

But Pakistan and Afghanistan are fooling themselves if they think that their respective insurgencies can be solved without bilateral–indeed, multilateral–coordination. In a sign of how much that is lacking, today, a Pakistani Frontier Corps officer was killed by Afghan security forces in a clash with militants. And U.S. forces on the ground contend that there is collusion between low-mid level Pakistan intelligence and Frontier Corps officers. It’s a recipe for continued conflict, albeit with a shift in alliances.

Pakistan will continue as a party to the conflict as long as militants from its territory attack U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan and it provides a supply route and other assistance to coalition forces.


Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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